By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
EAST MOLINE, Ill. — Sean Taylor tried to be as honest with the Quincy High School boys basketball team as he could.
With three losses, the Blue Devils would have a chance at capturing at least a share of the Western Big Six Conference championship.
With four losses, they wouldn’t.
How true that is after Friday night.
Quincy began the second half of the WB6 season by exploiting injury-riddled East Moline defensively, limiting the conference co-leaders to 0-for-20 shooting from 3-point range as the Blue Devils posted a 55-37 victory at the Panther Den.
Meanwhile, Rock Island Alleman upset the league’s other co-leader, beating Rock Island 67-63. Couple that with Moline’s 56-52 victory over Galesburg, and there is a three-way tie for first place at 4-2 with four conference games remaining. Quincy and Alleman lurk just a game behind at 3-3.
“We just have to keep pushing,” Quincy senior forward DeAngelo Dean said. “We have to stick together and do the little things that add up to a victory.”
Mainly, the Blue Devils (12-6, 3-3) have to keep winning.
“I didn’t want to put more pressure on them, but I wanted them to understand what’s real,” said Taylor, who has led Quincy to three WB6 titles in his first eight seasons as the head coach. “I think we’re playing better, and we’re going to give ourselves an opportunity to win every night.”
A momentum-turning shot and a buckle-down attitude did that Friday night.
Despite starting the game 1 of 9 from the field, the Blue Devils trailed only 13-9 after scoring the final five points of the first quarter, including junior guard Martin Kvitle’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer that he shot from the volleyball spike line painted on the court.
“I thought we got outplayed the first quarter,” Taylor said. “To only be down four was big for us.”
Then the Blue Devils took off. They scored the first seven points of the second quarter and pulled ahead 22-18 by halftime as they went 6 of 8 from the field in the second quarter.
“We took advantage of the momentum,” Taylor.
East Moline (12-8) couldn’t stem the tide.
Already without one starter, as senior guard D.J. McDowell was in a street clothes for academic reasons, the Panthers saw their leading scorer leave the floor midway through the second quarter. Tayvian Johnson, a 6-foot-5 senior forward, rolled his right ankle when landing awkwardly after trying to grab a defensive rebound.
He was helped off the floor, and when he returned to the bench after halftime, Johnson was on crutches.
“I feel sorry for the guy,” said Dean, who finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds. “I wanted to go against him. He’s a good player, and I like going up against good guys. But you have to take advantage of it and step up.”
More importantly, you have to attack.
“We were like, ‘Let’s just go at them harder,'” junior guard Cole Abbey said.
Making matters worse for the Panthers was senior guard Damon Overton landed hard on his back in the final minute of the first half and hobbled off the floor as well. Overton played the rest of the game, finishing with a game-high 24 points, but he was noticeably slower and favoring his lower back in the second half.
Without Overton’s ability to knife to the basket the way he did in the first half, East Moline was forced to settle for outside jumpers.
Those didn’t fall. The Panthers finished 12 of 42 from the field, going 6 of 32 the final three quarters.
“We just dug in and guarded harder than we ever guarded before,” Abbey said.
The Blue Devils also dominated the paint, outrebounding the Panthers 40-23 and grabbing 14 offensive boards. Abbey had three in the second half, scoring six second-chance points as he finished with 16 points off the bench.
“We had to rebound,” Dean said. “That was the main thing. We had to be aggressive and rebound.”
The Blue Devils did in a major way, creating an intriguing chase for the championship.